May 28, 2017
Scripture: 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.
In some ways scripture passages like these can be hard to hear. They seem so foreign in some ways and yet it can still be tempting to try and locate ourselves within them, considering our own lives and struggles to be somehow akin to those spoken of by the author. We hear the cautionary advice to resist the one who ‘prowls around’ wreaking havoc and destroying people’s lives, we find solace in the thought that there is a certain and comfortable order in feeling that we know who it is that we are up against and believing that our God is still greater and more powerful…and on our side as well. We read through the scriptural account noting possible parallels to our own life and experience and find ourselves feeling grateful that somehow we have ‘made it through’, that we skirted past some possible catastrophe by holding fast to the robe of our Savior, that though struggles may endure for a time, we have successfully sailed through many of them and will continue to do so by the grace we rely upon and believe we are centered in. We can relate to the author of our passage because we think we are able to successfully place ourselves and our experience within the message itself.
And yet…I am not sure the author would agree with us if he were here and if he were given a chance to walk with us for a time, to live alongside of us for a time, and to understand why it is we feel we know what it is he was writing about. For in many ways his world was very different from ours today…and unfortunately much the same in many others. The early Christians whom Peter was addressing were facing dangerous, life-threatening persecution for their new-found faith expression. They were routinely rounded up and given opportunity to renounce their faith in exchange for their freedom, however many chose to martyr themselves instead, facing certain death rather than turning away from Jesus. Fear ruled the day as society became fully corrupted in seeking to preserve the status quo and to root out this new movement of the faith. Neighbors turned in their neighbors, distrust and betrayal was rampant, mob mentality was sated only by grotesque displays at the hands of gladiators or wild beasts, and even the sanctity of the family was broken apart as parents turned against their children and children abandoned their parents over allegiance to the new Christian faith. Truly it was a time unlike anything any of us have ever seen…and yet behavior of this sort still stubbornly persists in some corners…not just with the persecution of Christians, but of those of other faiths, or of different understandings, lifestyles, or even skin color as well.
Truly the ‘lion’ of evil intention and horrendous human behavior still prowls unchecked in many ways and in many places. And yet, somehow I think that there are many among us who may feel just a bit insulated from the effects of that struggle and injury due to the fact that they feel that their understanding of the faith and their love of and reliance upon the Lord Jesus offers them a shield against it all. But I am not so sure that this understanding of the faith is as ‘eyes-wide-open’ as it really needs to be. In fact I am not so sure at all that our faith is even supposed to provide a ‘shield’ so to speak, but rather might instead be a call to fully engage against those forces of evil and injury that still plague our brothers and sisters. In truth I wonder if our attempts to hide ourselves away within the folds of our Lord’s robe of grace might not have played directly into the hand of all that still seeks to divide and destroy, and if our lifestyle as those who no longer feel the need to fear injury or worry about persecution may have allowed that same ‘lion’ to plant itself firmly within the center of our very soul.
In truth I feel that many of us may be facing a far greater foe then we might imagine. For it is a foe that whispers oh so softly, a foe that is clothed in good intentions and with what seems like the goodness of caring for oneself and for one’s loved ones. It is a voice we hear that tells us that as long as we take care of ourselves and our own needs and wants first, then we will have and find the time to turn our attention to the care of others…in a word our foe…is that of distraction.
Carl Jung wrote that, ‘Hurry is not of the devil…it is the devil.’ And I wonder if that is not all the more true now than it ever was. I wonder if the foe we face is every bit as destructive and injurious as that faced by those early followers of the faith, I wonder if Peter would look at us and feel as though in many ways not much has changed…that there is fully as much resistance to the incoming of the reign of God and blessed community on earth as there ever was?
Now to be clear, there is much in the way of true physical, spiritual, and mental persecution still going on all over the world. There are many, of many different faiths both here and abroad who still suffer for their beliefs, who still struggle under the weight of religious and social discrimination of all stripes. Injustice against the vast majority of humankind continues unabated every moment of every day as our brothers and sisters are used up and spit out in the cogs and machinations of the great wheel we call progress…and much of it done…in the name of some God…many dying – that the few might live more comfortably…and it is only through some strange form of self-preservation that we blind ourselves to that truth and deafen ourselves to their cries for release.
But we know of this, even if we successfully shield ourselves from its call upon our deepest selves. We know there is injustice and struggle in many parts of the world, even if we may not see it as clearly close to home. However, our passage should not be allowed to speak as if it is solely a message for these in such dire need, but to our own lives as well…somehow we need to find how it is that the Spirit of grace is calling to us just as deeply and just as urgently. And I think that the point of entry for us might just be found in a consideration of our priorities.
I wonder if trying to sort out all that is calling for attention in our lives, all of the competing claims upon our time, our attention, and our resources have somehow become the greater portion of the substance of our lives…let me repeat that, I wonder if all of the competing claims upon our time, our attention, and our resources have somehow become the greater portion of the substance of our lives?
In other words, are we perhaps too often preoccupied with everything we hear or are told is important to the living of our own lives to notice or to hear the whispers of the Spirit calling us to turn away from ourselves and from self-preoccupation in order to give of our lives in love and in service of others in need? Have we become so tuned in to self-care and the acquisition of personal security that we have left behind the ability or the willingness to hear the call of those truly struggling like those who first heard Peter’s message? Have we lost the urgency, or perhaps the awareness that it is in fact a commandment to care for our neighbors in need?
Are our priorities just a bit off if our sense of ‘struggle’ is primarily defined by what we don’t yet have, or by what is troublesome within our own sphere of our own life and relationships, rather than the life and death struggles going on all around both here and abroad? Have we unwittingly let the ‘lion’ of distraction, hurry, and busyness into the center of our hearts, allowing him to set up shop and to reign as king over our thoughts, concerns, and our worries? Is our sense of struggle and personal hardship caused primarily by distraction rather than by true hardship? Are we being sorely tested by the ‘roaring lion’ of a social narrative that constantly tells us we do not have that which would truly make is happy? Have we perhaps let ourselves become captive to powers and principalities greater than ourselves?
We speak of community, and we pray for ‘blessed community’…but is that even possible given the deep divisions within our own society? Sometimes I allow myself to wonder what happened to the America that so many in our short history fought and died for. As we prepare to celebrate Memorial Day are we truly giving thanks for the valor and commitment of those who believed that freedom and justice for all of humankind was something worth giving their all for? Did they fight for freedom for all peoples, for all faiths, and for every distinction we call ‘race’? Or is that core principle of who we were called to be sometimes hidden or even lost in nationalistic, me-first behavior and belief that allows the ‘raging lion’ of greed, prejudice, and injustice to continue to roam unchecked through so many people’s lives…and even at times sadly, within our own?
Busyness…hurry…distraction…have we immersed ourselves or allowed ourselves to be duped into a style of living and functioning that is now so over-filled with non-critical concerns, with small things and petty appetites driven by rampant consumerism? And in the dogged pursuit of our own personal security have we lost sight of the fact that the vast majority of humanity, many of whom are here within our own country and even within our own neighborhoods, do not have the luxury of dreaming about the future farther than their next meal or how to make it through the rest of that particular day?
I worry that we may lose sight of the fact that our lives can on occasion become far too full of our own concerns, and not concerned enough with the pressing needs of those whose lives may not have been so blessed as our own. We need to be aware that the ‘lion’ who is among us now is the lion of distraction and lies, the one who makes us fearful and tells us that in fact we are not secure, that what we have is not sufficient, and that those who are not carbon copies of ourselves, with our own thoughts, beliefs, sensibilities, and appearance are dangerous and to be avoided.
This is the same ‘lion’ Peter spoke of, the same ‘lion’ who is still out there, testing and tempting us to act in ways that are anything but Christ-like, anything but loving and self-sacrificially caring and compassionate. It is this ‘Lion of 21st Century, First World Order and Preservation’ that is the driving force holding back the emergence of the new Day of our Lord, holding back the revealing among us of the Blessed Kingdom which Jesus told us was now among us and which he commanded us to bring into present-day reality. This is the ‘lion’ who seeks to divide us one from another, causing us to focus on minor differences rather than celebrating the great calling we have been given to build sustainable, just, and compassionate community that can serve as an example of our Lord’s grace to all others.
The Apostle Peter writes, ‘Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God…Cast all your fears upon him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert, stand steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.’
Take a moment each day just to stop…let go of the hurry, resist the urge to do anything but to quiet yourself deep within, allow the Spirit of grace to rise within you and to quiet your soul from all worry and from all fear…trust that the Lord will guide your footsteps and align your purposes for the day…and then, and only then begin to walk into the gift of that new day…